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Scenic short road trip Auckland to Hokianga Harbour

Trip Overview

Places to visit and where to go

Duration: 2 days
Start Auckland
Finish Rawene

Each journey can be linked to a comprehensive loop trip around the top of the North Island, NZ.


Combine scenic highlights with visits to heritage places such as Footsteps of Kupe and Waipoua forest trails listening to Maori guides elaborate traditional values and their relationship with the forest.


November to mid-April (while the winterless North is unlikely to experience low temperatures and frost Northland can have periods of extensive rain in winter (April to September).


2 hours or less for each section (between 165 km – 195 km)

This route follows the classic Top of New Zealand road trip, Twin Coast Discovery, Northland. The trip is now divided into sections for ease of use.


In Northland there are a number of successful conservation projects welcoming visitors. These are highlighted in orange on the customised map.


Long Bay Regional Park Auckland perfect sandy beach in Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Long Bay Regional Park Auckland


North is where Auckland locals go for the summer. There are several glorious regional parks as well as sheltered sandy beaches for a summer fix away from the crowds. From the donkeys of Algiers Bay to Snells Beach esplanade and mangrove boardwalks to walks through bush to quiet beaches where the crowds are few and far between. From Mahurangi Peninsula to Tawharanui Peninsula and beyond are a series of eastern facing sandy shallow beaches that have been welcoming visitors for over a hundred years.

… read more about Aukland regional parks Amazing Auckland, Puhoi, Warkworth, Matakana and beyond, beaches and parks – Best Bits


Parry Kauri forest reserve is a special nook I am not sure if I want to write about. The reserve is a quiet place with ancient Kauri and Totara trees within view of the car park. You could be very lazy, not get out of the car and simply look at the magnificent kauri (approximately 800 years old) from your vehicle.

As New Zealand kauri is under threat from a very nasty disease called kauri dieback (usually fatal) the kiwi icon has its own guardians instructing people how to avoid transmitting the disease to trees not yet affected… read more about your stop in Warkworth – short detour from State Highway one – Best Bits.

Parry Kauri, Northland, New Zealand
Parry Kauri


Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens, female figure, Auckland, New Zealand
Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens

Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens

The unassuming garden centre, stocked with the usual bedding plants, roses and shrubs holds a secret door complete with a keypad entrance. Behind the door (there is an entry fee) is an amazing naturalised garden stacked with an array of sculptures, installations and public art works which are generally for sale. You are invited to take a picnic with you and relax in the gardens where a heritage orchard has a delightful installation or grab a coffee from the garden cafe and enjoy sipping your beverage while admiring the backside of a large elephant artwork.


Kaipara Coast Plant Centre & Sculpture Walk is part of Auckland day trip to Kaipara Harbour – Best Bits.


The Kaipara Harbour is an adventure. It is not uncommon to find ancient fossilised embedded kauri logs up to 50,000 years old exposed by wind and sand. The coast is a variable treasure trove of shipwrecks. The sand exposes wrecks and then hides them again in the shifting sands. Journey along the Kaipara Harbour beaches with the Tasman sea stretching endlessly on one side, and rolling sand-dunes, cliffs and native grasses on the other side.

… READ MORE Kauri Coast beaches things to do & see – Best Bits

Kaipara Harbour in the distance viewpoint Kaipara Coast Sculpture Garden, Auckland, New Zealand
Kaipara Harbour in the distance viewpoint Kaipara Coast Sculpture Garden
Kaipara Harbour signage Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens, Auckland, New Zealand
Kaipara Harbour signage Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens, Auckland


Finding the entrance to Kaipara Harbour without distinguishing landmarks took its toll on nineteenth century mariners. There are 112 confirmed shipwrecks with undoubtedly more.

The located shipwrecks are in shallow water, buried in the shifting sand dunes known as the Valley of wrecks or The Graveyard.


The beautiful remote Omamari beach is the site of the only, and still unconfirmed, wreckage of the SS Turakina, which was destroyed in a gunbattle with the German gunboat the Orion in the Tasman Sea in August 1940.


Shallow crystal clear fresh water reflections in ancient dune lakes of Kai Iwi. The Taharoa Domain has camping grounds, perimeter walks and places to relax in the shade.

Pier in Kai Iwi lakes, Northland, New Zealand
Pier in Kai Iwi lakes, Northland

Travelling with kids this is a great spot for kids (and adults to paddle and explore).


The Lakes and their catchments have high ecological value with the presence of several threatened species of flora and fauna. Native algae, aquatic plants and fish species are part of the habitat, including endangered dune lake galaxiids, which are unique to the lakes. Lake Taharoa has the deepest growing submerged vegetation in the North Island, at 24m. Many fish and water birds use the surrounding reed beds, wetlands and open water… Kai Iwi Lakes – Northland Regional Council.


Well signposted walking trails around the three lakes and to the Tasman Sea approximately 2.5 km.



NZ is where nature has formed a dune lake within the aid of a river. Water collects in sand depressions where there is a firm underlying strata of impermeable ironstone pans. The sand has effectively created a cement pool which traps rainwater.

The Kai Iwi Northland Lakes were formed in the ancient Pleistocene era. Dune lakes are precious rare ecosystems with often flora and fauna unique to a single ecosystem. They are usually shallow and irregular in shape. While the bodies of water are mostly permanent due to their position close to the ocean water levels can be influenced by the tide.

Forest of ferns, giant redwoods and kauri Trounson Kauri National Park, New Zealand
Trounson Kauri Park


Self-guided boardwalk with the requisite kauri dieback station for rigorous footwear cleaning is a safe way to immerse yourself in a native forest where the only danger is tripping up as you constantly peer upwards. A highlight is the 1200 year old specimen. There are excellent information panels throughout the walk describing the canopy layers and the flora and fauna. There is a weta box for all ages to view. Kūkupa (New Zealand pigeons) are abundant and you are likely to hear and see them. North Island brown kiwi, fantails, pied tits and other forest birds are also resident with reintroduction of other birds planned for the future. Kauri, taraire, kauri grass, kiekie, neinei and ferns dominate the vegetation.

Fallen kauri and the resulting light wells, clear streams and filmy ferns are among the interesting features of Trounson. Kauri roots are extremely sensitive to trampling. Stay on the track at all times to ensure no damage is done to these magnificent trees, and to help prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease.

  • Length: 1.8 km
  • Duration: 40 minutes (loop)
  • Grade: Very easy
  • Toilet: Yes
@Kauri Coast TOP 10
@Kauri Coast TOP 10
The Kauri Museum, Matakohe, Northland, New Zealand
The Kauri Museum, Matakohe, Northland


Find out what happened to the majestic kauri, who chopped down the forest and why. Matakohe is the home to the fabulous Kauri Museum and the adjoining kauri framed 19th century church and school house. The stunning display of heritage roses draws visitors every spring to the area.


The Kauri Museum tells the stories of the pioneer settlers through the theme of the second largest tree in the world, the Kauri. With over 4000sq metres of undercover exhibits, the internationally acclaimed Museum receives 85,000 visitors annually and is the largest undercover attraction in Northland. Highlights include: Interactive hands-on displays; the largest collection of Kauri Gum in the world; Real Steam Sawmill with moving saws, flat belts, countershafts, pulleys and steam engines; huge Kauri logs and real equipment for the transporting and milling of Kauri Timber, and collecting Kauri Gum; and a magnificent collection of antique Kauri furniture.

Kauri Museum, Northland, New Zealand @KauriMuseum


The town is on the tidal estuary of the Matakohe River, tributary of Arapaoa River flows into the vast Kaipara Harbour. State Highway 12 traverses the small town.


  • Kauri Museum visit including excellent gift shop
  • Heritage rose collection surrounding 19th century church
  • Kauri Bushmans Reserve walk




Northland where geology and history have woven together the story of Aotearoa New Zealand. Enjoy exploring hidden gems on the East Coast of Northland and discover the beautiful Hokianga Harbour where people (Kupe) first landed.


  • Majestic ancient Waipoua Kauri Forest
  • Towering golden sand dunes brushing against the blue Hokianga Harbour water
  • Mangroves and extraordinary Koutu boulder formations
Concretions on Koutu Beach at Hokianga Harbour, Northland, in the North Island of New Zealand
Concretions on Koutu Beach at Hokianga Harbour
Waipoua Kauri Forest Tree, New Zealand
Waipoua Kauri Forest Tree


Waipoua Forest has the remaining vestiges of the long lived Aotearoa New Zealand Kauri trees. Kauri is one of the world’s ancient slow growing trees. The largest kauri reach more than 50 metres tall, have trunk girths up to 16 metres, and are estimated to be over 2,000 years old.


Waipoua Forest. Remember to check the website for updates on Kauri dieback disease which is limiting access to walks and tramping tracks.


Recommended Footprints Waipoua. Join the twilight tour:

  • Witness forest transition from day to night
  • Meet the oldest and largest Kauri trees in the world.
  • Giant trees include ​Te Matua Ngāhere & Tane Mahuta
  • Minimum 2 guests


Hokianga § Heads, Harbour, Sand Dunes, Camping & Things to Do provides an overview of what to see and do in the area.



Promise, there are no crocodiles lurking among New Zealand mangroves although you might wonder.

The Rawene wetlands boardwalk is best undertaken mid-tide with the flow receding to get a sense of the intertidal nature of a specific ecosystem. The wetlands walk is built over a regenerating environment. The boardwalk is built over the site of a 19th century timber factory making boxes from mangrove harvested wood. There is a slight wiff of rotting vegetation (sulphur dioxide) which the helpful information plaques inform the visitor it is rotting piles from the former factory.

Rawene Boat Shed Cafe, Northland, NZ
Rawene Boat Shed Cafe, Northland
Clendon House, Rawene, New Zealand
Clendon House, Rawene

In New Zealand, Avicennia marina is the only mangrove species. It grows in the top half of the North Island, between 34 and 38 degrees south. Avicennia marina was known in New Zealand as Avicennia resinifera until recently; its Māori name is mānawa…  Avicennia marina – Wikipedia. Mangroves are estimated to have arrived in New Zealand on ocean currents approximately 11,000 years ago. Limited frost tolerances influence the latitudinal limit.


The grey mangrove can experience stunted growth in water conditions that are too saline, but thrive to their full height in waters where both salt and fresh water are present. The species can tolerate high salinity by excreting salts through its leaves.


Examine the underside of the leaves looking for salt extractions.


Cross the harbour to the sand dunes on the regular boat tours operating throughout the year. To maximise your opportunities on the dunes start as early as possible. You will be climbing uphill to the dune escarpments through heavy sand which weighs the feet down. Comfortable walking shoes are necessary. Your destination is the North Head’s well known wind sculptures. The contoured shapes formed out of sand are memorising. There are canyons, clefts and cavities and plateaus with contrasting colours and textures. The geography of the area is evident with evidence of forests which were burnt and cleared with the arrival of people approximately 800 years ago. There is evidence of human occupation around this period with shell middens. This walk can be approached from Mitimiti.

Hokianga Harbour great sand dunes, New Zealand
Hokianga Harbour great sand dunes
Beautiful nature of Northland, Mangrove trees, Hokianga Harbour, Northland, New Zealand
Mangrove trees, Hokianga Harbour, Northland


  • Observing the geological layers with a thick black layer indicative of a massive forest fire
  • Imaging nature’s art forms have a life of their own with shape changing with the wind and rain
  • Soaking up the desert Sahara atmosphere with its contrast of harbour waters and the Northland farmed landscapes.

RAWENE, New Zealand’s third oldest European settlement has great cafés, craft shops and the historic Clendon House. Hop on a ferry to see some amazing scenery and enjoy the Victorian village of Kohukohu. The nearby Wairere Boulders is the only valley worldwide of its kind where there are thousands of boulders stacked on top of each other, some around 30m high.

Quirky Rawene, departure point for Hokianga Harbour ferry and home of The Boat Shed Cafe.  Allow several hours to amble around Rawene, popping into the local cafe / art gallery, the puzzle shop and simply walking around the town absorbing the sense of community.

Clendon House, Jane Clendon and husband sculpture, Rawene, Hokianga, New Zealand
Clendon House, Jane Clendon and husband sculpture, Rawene
Koutu boulders, Northland, in the North Island of New Zealand
Concretions on Koutu Beach at Hokianga Harbour

Koutu Boulders – The Hokianga – extraordinary geologic feature.

Cyclindal natural sculptured rock forms make for a great photo moment. It has been estimated that the largest of the boulders may have taken 5 million years to grow.

The boulders are concretions, or hardened nodules formed within sedimentary rocks. Moeraki boulders are the poster rock boys for this type of rock formation. Hokianga Harbour does it one better with hundreds of them and an isolated beach for you to stroll on. The walk is an easy one for all ages, best done within the two hours either side of low tide. At any time you can walk along the beach but at high tide it can be a bit of a scramble.

Getting there from Rawene, drive about 10 km past the Rawene turnoff towards Opononi, through the settlement of Whirinaki and at the foot of the saddle on the Opononi side you will see Koutu Loop Road on your right.  It is best to do the walk within two hours either side of low tide. Follow the signs for Koutu Boulders.



@Rawene Holiday Park
@Rawene Holiday Park


Hokianga is an underdeveloped tourist destination without the flush of motels lining the small settlements. The Hokianga has a number of airBNB options however camping grounds are few and far between. There is plenty of choice from rivers to beaches, from holiday parks to rustic classic campsites where there is not much except Northland’s spectacular charms.

The Postmasters Lodgings, Rawene, Hokianga, North Island

Beautifully decorated with eclectic furniture ranging from full blown ornate Victoriana to early 20th century adds a gloss to the sense of stepping into the catalogue of a bygone period.

A classic bed and breakfast with panoramic views of Rawene, Hokianga harbour and town activities.

… part of Weird, quirky and 16 fascinating places to stay in New Zealand – Best Bits.

Mangonui world famous in New Zealand fish n chips
Mangonui world famous in New Zealand fish n chips



Relish the taste of freshly caught fish. It’s fish n chips nivera with a picturesque harbour to whoof down the lightly battered, crisp joy. Walk off the fried goodness with a short energetic heritage walk, an interesting art gallery and quirky local shops. Doubtless Bay and the inner harbour of Mangonui are steeped in history. Scenic uncrowded reserves where there is plenty of space to contemplate glorious vistas and the march of time over the landscapes before you. Heritage, takeaways and fabulous scenery create memorable moments.

… read more What’s so great about Mangonui

This road trip is part of the scenic journeys beyond Auckland to the far north of Aotearoa New Zealand exploring both the west and east coast of scenic Northland.



Best Bits travel guide is published by Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.

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